Rod takes ten minutes in the transporter to methodically go through his list of Ancient profanity before calmly touch his radio. "Dr. Sheppard, Teyla, Ronon, please meet me in--" The meditation room? The work-out room? The lounge? Jesus, where do they meet outside of missions? "Where are you?"
"I am currently meditating," Teyla says, which means John's meditation room, since she found the room more aesthetically pleasing than the one she'd been using.
"There," he says. "McKay out."
He doesn't storm--he's not John Sheppard, drama queen extraordinaire--but all three of them look at him with varying stages of wariness as he drops down on a spare rug and shoves the paper in John's face. "When did you know about this?"
Frowning, John takes it, reading it at a glance, and there's no mistaking the surprise on his face. Passing it to Ronon, John looks at him curiously. "New teams?"
"New *everything*," Rod bites out, getting a sharp glance from Teyla. "You two. What was that about?"
"Colonel Sumner and Major Lorne did come to speak with me," Teyla says slowly. "I did not know anything had been decided." Her eyes flicker to Ronon as he reads over the sheet, then passes back to Rod. "They explained to me how my assistance would be necessary for the shift in Atlantean priorities of exploration."
"And you didn't think to *tell me*?"
Teyla's eyebrows raise. "I was not aware you did not know." Ronon nods agreement, eyebrows drawn tightly together. "Nor that you would have any objections. It follows some of your own suggestions regarding the priority of scientific study--"
"Are you quoting me? Because if you are, roll back to the fact they're *splitting up my team*. Which I never requested or suggested at any time. And you--" Rod turns on John, aware that he's got to look like an idiot, but this is his, this team. With sick clarity, he remembers every time he memo'ed Dr. Weir insisting they needed more time with the new tech, more time to study, every objection he'd lodged when they'd left a planet only half-explored. She'd been *listening*. "Boot camp?"
John frowns, drawing back defensively. "Lorne suggested I try it out if I was serious."
"Serious about *what*? Putting yourself in danger? Trying out a new image as a *grunt*? You're a *scientist*. What the hell are you trying to prove?"
John flushes, something dangerous crossing his face, dangerous because this is John Sheppard and he's never met a blunt statement he couldn’t make insulting. "Did you get off on it?" John says, voice low. "You got back from your little cross-dimensional jaunt full of how much better than you were than McKay. You sat in the labs and told us what it was like over there, how great everyone was, how great *Colonel Sheppard* was. Did. You. Like. It?"
Rod blinks, reviewing his first days back with a sinking feeling. Oh shit.
"When you said. At least. McKay had *friends*."
"John," Teyla says in a low voice.
"You were there a few days, and when you told us about it, you told us how you got along with his sister and his team and his *Colonel Sheppard*, how great they were, how great *he* was. How much you were nothing like him. How much I was."
And his day just officially got worse. "I was *kidding*. I didn't mean--"
"That's such bullshit I can't even believe I'm sitting here listening to it." Stumbling to his feet, John looks in danger of toppling over on Teyla's candles. "You know what? I'm not an officer in the military. I could have been. I never wanted it. I love my work. I love what I can do, what I can build. I love my job and I love this city and I loved exploring new planets with you. And you came back to tell us how much better we could be, if we were just more like *them*."
Ronon shifts. "I didn't like Colonel Sheppard that much," he offers, getting a scathing glance from Rod. "What?"
"Oh, Jesus." John throws up his hands. "Fine. Whatever. I have actual work to do--"
"Pissing contests with the Marines?" Rod says without thinking, and Jesus, what the hell is wrong with him? "Sorry, sorry, no, John, it wasn't like that--"
"You couldn't have him, because he wanted to go home," John say brutally. "No matter how much his world sucked, and his McKay sucked, he still wanted them back. Not you. Not here. So it just begs the question, if you would have traded the rest of us in if you had the chance. Because from where I’m standing, it sure as hell looks like it."
John turns angrily, nearly tripping over his own feet as Teyla, with a quick, unreadable glance at Rod, stands up, going after him with more decorum, but not a little speed. Ronon doesn't so much as twitch, but then, he's like that.
"I never would have--" Rod stops, looking at Ronon. "You know I wouldn't. I never would have traded you for anyone else. Any of you."
Ronon nods agreeably, but again, he's *like that*. "I know." Rod gets a second of breathing room--of course John overreacted. Of *course*. Then, "Of course, I only heard once or a few times about his amazing knife collection." Ronon frowns. "I still don't get the knives."
Rod buries his head in his hands. "So not the point."
Ronon grunts thoughtfully. "Maybe your point is wrong."
John, fresh from being beat the shit out of by Marines for a week, proceeds to indulge in a tantrum unlike *anything* anyone has ever seen. They know John Sheppard, and he's had his moments, but apparently, John had been holding back.
When Rod's called for the fifth time in two hours to mediate before someone dies (and now it's not necessarily John that will go down; apparently the Marines taught him some dirty tricks along the way that led to at least one visit to the infirmary with John looking on in surprise), he knows something has to give. And from experience, he knows it won't be John's temper.
John's alone in his lab, mostly due to having sent Kavanagh into a fit that's now spread the horror across the chemists and is slowly working its way through biology, where John already brought three to the point of tears. No one's happy, and Rod tries to remember if it was like this Before (Before the trans-dimensional trip, Before Colonel Sheppard, Before that night with John, Before), and he's not sure.
Before John, he thinks spitefully, and it actually crosses his mind to get him transferred, but just imagining Dr. Weir's gentle queries on why they're sending the only man who can build almost-ZPMs back to earth makes him queasy, and worse, he doesn't want to.
He actually doesn't *want* to. Atlantis without John Sheppard is an Atlantis he can't imagine. Stopping short at the door of John's lab, Rod takes a moment to think about what he's going to say. John's not the same--to be honest with himself, Rod admits that it's something he's still struggling with, learning John's new language--and he's never taken orders anyway. John's still himself, but he's something else, too, and whether it was watching his more approachable self for weeks being treated like the greatest improvement to the species since they started walking upright, or Rod's vodka-inspired sex is a debatable and mostly moot point. John's *changed*. And it's better, Rod admits, to himself, even if he does miss John's singular ability to use five words to bring someone to their knees. But it's more than that.
Rod's changed, and he's not sure in his own skin anymore. They've all changed, and he's not sure why, or how, but he knows Teyla actually gets annoyed when he corrects her history and Ronon dislikes most forms of alcohol. He's learned--
He's learned Teyla sleeps badly and meditates at night, that Ronon hates to fly but lets John take him up anyway because John loves to; he's learned that his team has *hobbies*, and that they'll follow where he leads but possibly don't know him at all.
And he's learned that he hates McKay a lot more than he'd ever suspected, because it keeps circling in his head, slow and inevitable, remembering when McKay would snap and Colonel Sheppard would smile with fond exasperation, McKay would yell and Teyla would soothe, McKay would growl and Ronon would give him food. They mocked him and laughed at him and protected him with everything in them. They worked with him and played with him and they loved him. They *knew* him, the parts that humiliated Rod to see exposed to any eyes that cared to see, the insecurity and the fear and the bravado, a walking advertisement for all the things that Rod's denied in himself for more years than he can count.
They *knew* McKay and still liked him, liked him for everything he was and everything he wasn't and everything he could be. Rod had tolerated John for a mind unlike any he had ever seen, and a body that was made for sex.
When he walks into John's lab, John looks at him with wary exhaustion. Apparently he no longer derives energy from the people he destroys. Being a bitch is work now. "What did you want to be?" Rod asks, and John frowns, hand hovering protectively over his keyboard. "You never--I was just curious. Why you chose this."
"Fermi," John says, then shakes his head. "Rod--"
"I want to know."
He does. He wants to know. He knows John graduated from high school three years early, that John breezed through MIT like someone who never bothered sleeping, knows who John's thesis advisor was, his GPA, his unfortunate history with certain professors, but right now, he has no idea what makes John tick.
Settling uncomfortably on the stool, John stares down at his laptop for a moment. "When I was eight, this kid came on TV doing stupid math tricks. Memorization, most of it. Half of it was stupid. But my parents were amazed. And they thought I was nuts when I said anyone could do it. Turns out, I was wrong. Not everyone can. But I could." John shifts uncomfortably. "So they found this guy to test me, and--my dad was career military. We couldn't--we never stayed in one place. But this guy said that--that I'd be wasted if I kept--if they kept moving me around." John shrugs. "So they let me go."
"A school for kids like me. Kids my age were playing baseball, I was learning quantum mechanics. We worked on projects that they sold to the US government after we were done. They showed us off at different places, had us perform to get the funding to keep the school going. And it did. We hadn't even hit puberty and were being recruited by the top schools in the world. I was thirteen and MIT was camping out on our doorstep promising us anything we wanted." John flushes. "It was normal, do you--do you understand?"
"You were actually, literally, raised in a lab." Jesus, that explains so much. And also, tactless. "Right. Forget I said that. I just--"
"Well." John grins suddenly. "Yeah." John gestures, taking in the room with a flicker of his fingers. "MIT was okay--we all were together there and most people left us alone. After we split up, it--changed. The SGC wasn't bad, you know. I mean, I was around stupid people, but they gave me my own lab when I--applied enough pressure. Sam wasn't too bad," John says thoughtfully, and Rod tenses for a second, hoping to God that this doesn't lead to another long soliloquy about Dr. Jackson, because Rod can't deal with that right now. "But--it wasn't the same. Not like school."
Rod lets out a breath. "You *do* know people aren't stupid just to annoy you."
John's eyes narrow. "I really don't believe that."
Jesus. Leaning into a lab table, Rod draws in a deep breath. "So--all of this--"
John raises an eyebrow, leaning back into the lab table. "Before Colonel Sheppard left, he caught me in the jumper bay," he says, and Rod tries not to be annoyed that everyone's started calling them that. Gateships are a great name. That no one uses now. Ever. "We had a talk."
Rod swallows, trying to imagine how that went. "After--"
"Obviously, my concentration was off," John says shortly, and Rod decides not to argue the point. "Anyway, he--well, anyway. We took a flight in the jumper." John's eyes go distant. "I didn't understand how he could waste his life away wearing a uniform when he could have been--well. But when he touched the controls, it was--they don't respond to us like that," John says. "He loves it. He loves them. They respond to him. I was taking readings the entire time, and you should have been there, it was *amazing*--and he shoved me into the pilot's seat and I--"
John stops, mouth soft and oddly vulnerable, hazel eyes half-closed.
"I could see it how he saw it. The jumper. The city. His life. I don't--I never wanted anything like that. But I could see how he could." John pauses, then admits reluctantly, "Okay. I do know people aren't stupid just to annoy me, fine. I just don't have to *like* it."
Rod almost smiles. Coming closer, he leans into the table beside John. "I never would have given you up."
John's faint smile flips off like a lightswitch, and he turns back to the laptop, back as straight as a broomstick. "Rod--"
"No, wait." His finger touch Lorne's t-shirt--what is it with John wandering off with Lorne's clothes anyway? It's juvenile--pulling John back around to face him. "No. Look, you--it wasn't about you. It was--I was being an asshole, okay? I mean, not approaching the pinnacles you've achieved, naturally, but--he was different. It was different." It was John, but stripped of the sharp edges, smart and funny and exotic. Approachable. A Sheppard that Rod could *have*. "And he seemed to like me."
John snorts softly. "And I don't."
"I don't believe you."
John stares at his laptop, like it can grow feet and run away, so he can chase it and start talking about Atlantis being sentient again. Or, like he can get away from this conversation. "You aren't the worst boss I've ever had."
"You know, if your boss is someone you never listen to and pretend doesn't exist for long stretches of time, sure."
John rolls his eyes, but it's not like it's not true. "Look--"
"John," and Rod's fingers slip, brushing the silky skin of his neck, and he can't quite make himself stop them. Stepping closer, he watches John's head tilt up, something flaring vivid and green in his eyes, half-way between resignation and something far more fragile. Rod strokes up the side of John's throat, feeling the shiver of skin beneath his fingers before he's cupping Sheppard's jaw, stubble rough beneath his palm.
"Do you remember what you said to me?" John says softly, turning his face into Rod's palm with a nuzzle that goes straight to his cock. "That first--that night?"
Rod stares at John's mouth and tries to remember English. It's not easy. "Sure. That you were hot."
"That I was hot," John agrees, voice low. "That you wanted me. That you wanted me the first time you saw me." John shifts, head level with Rod's, leaning so close that Rod can feel John's breath against his mouth. "That you liked me." Hands rest lightly on his shoulders, and John's lips brush his, so sweet that Rod's leaning into it, wanting more. "You told me everything I'd wanted to hear for three years. And I knew you didn't mean a word you said."
Rod jerks back, but John's grip is a little too strong. This is what comes of John getting involved with Air Force ass, Rod thinks. He starts going to the *gym*. "The thing is, Rod? I didn't care."
A clatter, and John's on the other side of the lab stool, leaving Rod clutching air.
"I knew what you were like. I knew every person you slept with. I knew what you told them. I just--I didn't *care*."
"And you cared a hell of a whole lot when you came to *me* the other night!" Rod says, and God, he wants to take it back, because John goes pale, and this, Rod thinks, is probably one of those things that John was happily planning never to talk about again. John's always had a bad effect on him. Always.
The door swishes open so suddenly even John's surprised, because no one comes in here but Rod if they can help it, and Rod turns in time to see Lorne standing there, looking at them with an amused frown. Rod wonders viciously if John has been saving his inner bitch for his coworkers or if Lorne's just exhausting him every night so he doesn't face the brunt of it. "Hey."
John frowns, ducking his head to look at his laptop, trying to squint enough to see the time. "Huh. I didn't realize it was that late."
"That's new and interesting," Lorne says patiently, "considering you say that every night. Dinner."
John looks like he wants to protest, then catches Rod's eyes and remembers he's in the room. "Right." Closing the laptop, John scrambles to stuff it in his bag with a lack of care that says more about his state of mind than the flush on his face. Jerking it over his shoulder, he gives Rod a wary look, like he's expecting Rod to break out with a full description of John's infidelity, and honestly, Rod really wants to slap him for that. "I have PT in the morning," John says, directing his words to the wall just behind Rod's head. "I'll be in late. Night."
Rod watches him walk out, Lorne stepping back to let John pass, forgetting Rod is even in there, watching, one hand settling briefly on John's shoulder as they walk away.
Rod's still standing there when the door closes. "I never lied," Rod tells the lab, wondering if he's imagining the skepticism radiating from it. Well, great. Turning on a heel, Rod goes to the door, wondering suddenly if this is how McKay had felt when he visited his Atlantis. "I'm sorry," he tells the room. "Also, I'm talking to myself. This is how crazy starts. Talking to a *city*."
This would probably be a good time to visit Heightmeyer, he thinks morosely, going back into his lab and snatching a clipboard from Zelenka to pretend to be productive. Or at least pick up a decent drinking habit.
Teyla kicks him, startling him awake. "Dr. McKay, please stop snoring."
Straightening, Rod frowns, glancing at the candles--which are considerably shorter than he remembers them being when he closed his eyes--and trying to discreetly work the crick out of his back. "I was finding zen," he says, to which Teyla raises a disbelieving eyebrow. "Right. Bad night."
"You seemed tired today." Teyla smiles, uncrossing her legs and leaning back on one arm casually, reminding Rod of that time on Athos they've never talked about even once, nor mentioned in any way, shape, or form.
"Do you think I use sex to feel better about myself?"
The dark eyes go wide. Rod remembers abruptly that she's a lot stronger than he is. "Dr. McKay."
Rod waves it off. "Sheppard's taking a kinder, gentler approach to human contact, so I thought I'd take up the slack on the tactless front. I mean--of course I don't, I like myself. I'm just wondering--"
"I think sometimes you do not engage in--intimate relations for the right reasons," Teyla says slowly, like she's speaking through her teeth.
"I like sex." And who doesn't? Once they've had it. Of course, then he remembers John and winces. "And if the other person is willing--"
"Then why are you asking me this question?" Teyla blows out the candles abruptly, plunging the room into darkness. Rod quickly thinks the lights on, illuminating an unpleasantly tight expression on Teyla's face. Hmm. "If you are happy with this, then there is no reason to worry." Gathering the candles, she rolls up her rug, and Rod quickly slides off his, rolling into a sloppy pile before taking it over to her.
"I just--this may be the longest conversation we've had," Rod says, which isn't exactly true, but fairly close. "We've known each other for three years and I--I just realized I don't really know you."
Teyla pushes her roll into her bag. "You have many duties."
"We all do. That doesn’t mean I can't--"
Teyla lifts her head, looking at him with unreadable eyes, and Rod stops. "What do you wish to say, Dr. McKay?"
"You could use my name, for one. You never do."
Teyla tucks her candles in, closing the bag and tying the ties off. "I had not noticed," she answers, standing up. "If you will excuse me, I need to change before I give John his stick lesson."
"Right. I'm sorry. I just--" Rod watches her incline her head, turning on a heel to walk to the door. "Teyla! When we--" Jesus, he's suicidal, so what if she doesn't have the sticks, she could kill him with *candles*. Licking his lips, he forces himself to keep talking. "After. Were you--did you expect something else from me?"
Teyla pauses at the door. "No, Dr. McKay. I can say that I honestly never expected anything else from you." With another incline of her head, she walks out, and Rod finds himself staring at the open door with that strange sense of something missed.
"Teyla." Running to the door, he looks out, but Teyla's already gone--anywhere away from here, he supposes, slumping against the frame. Going out, he waves the door closed behind him.
John's improvement with the sticks seems to synchronize with the sudden degradation of his personal life. Rod thinks that says something about motivation being the key to success, because John improves, like, *overnight*.
Or maybe the anger he's always taken out on others he's turning on his body.
Rod comes in one day to see John actually disarm Teyla before he trips over his own feet at the sound of Rod and hits the floor with what will be bruising impact. Rod winces for him.
"Dr. McKay," Teyla says, looking relieved as she shakes out her injured hand. John rights himself into a sitting position, scowling at the floor. "I did not expect--"
"John has a mission tomorrow." Rod pauses, watching John's head come up sharply. "A temporary assignment, since Ronon still has another week before Dr. Beckett will be comfortable with the healing on his leg and there's not another scientist ready to go out in the field."
John's back straightens, the scowl smoothing. "I wasn't told."
"I'm telling you." Rod waits, but John just watches him. "It's temporary."
"Until you stop voicing stupid objections, you mean," John snorts. When Rod opens his mouth, John rolls his eyes. "Lorne doesn't need to tell me. Command codes. You really should have told someone I took them."
Actually, he really should have. It's a breach of security he'd completely forgotten about. "So you read senior staff reports? I tremble for your evil mastermind ways."
"I could have hacked them the normal way, but the sys-admin's a bitch and it would have taken too long to get around her." John gets to his feet awkwardly, the strange grace he'd shown with Teyla gone. Apparently, John's left his zen space completely.
He's also talking less, and the labs are mostly quiet, but it's the kind of quiet that's waiting for an explosion of some kind, with wary footsteps around John and offers of coffee and gay porn (Rod officially refuses to ask what anyone carries on their jump drives, because honestly, he just doesn’t want to know), while Lorne and John hold the city hostage to their personal drama. For three years, Rod thinks sadly, everyone was professional and civil and normal. Now, they're all watching with bated breath as John and Lorne circle each other warily, a silent, uncomfortable argument that erupts in frozen polite inquiries about work from Lorne and John practicing his mime skills at dinner every night.
God alone knows what goes on behind closed doors, but from the way they're both acting, no one is getting laid.
Including Rod, come to think. And this is the worst time to realize that, because John is three sweaty feet away, in loose track pants that have never belonged to anyone else and a t-shirt from the last Daedalus run. That's because Rod found out that the botanists have been doing John's laundry and unfortunately, Ancient washers keep losing key pieces of overbright clothing, or so they say. Rod had sensibly broken into the requisition log and made sure that everything John had ordered matched.
That had been a long hour.
So John's hot. But John hot in eye-searing clothing is a different animal from the hot that's standing in front of him, flushed and sweaty, tanned from PT with the Marines.
Yeah, Rod thinks sadly as John trips over his own feet getting to his workout bag. I've got it *bad*. "You should get a haircut," Rod says abruptly, and God, it's like he's unknowingly absorbed John's ability to say exactly the wrong thing at the wrong time.
"I'll wear a skirt first," John says with a tight smile, throwing his bag over his shoulder. "I'd better check my email. Lorne's team always meets the evening before to do mission planning." Going to Teyla, he bows his head, forehead brushing hers, one hand gentle on her shoulder. "Thanks. I had a good time."
"I did as well," Teyla says with a smile in her voice. A few seconds pass as Rod watches John wander out with a single wary glance at him. Rod doesn't even realize he hasn't taken his eyes from John until the door shuts and Teyla clears her throat. Turning around--yes, he's being obvious, and honestly, he just doesn't care--Rod shrugs. "He's getting better."
"He has learned to relax," Teyla says, gathering her things together.
"God knows he needs to," Rod says thoughtfully. "Is he--" Rod makes a gesture he hopes conveys concern and not a really embarrassing amount of hope as well. Teyla just stares at him. "Fine, fine. I know he talks to you. Is he okay?"
Teyla pauses, looking at him steadily. "Do you want to know because you are worried about him or because you have some thought of--"
"Fucking him while he's vulnerable? He could kill me with his sticks now." What an image. Rod banishes the thought of John and sticks and a bed as quickly as possible, but Teyla's expression darkens, so no, apparently, he didn't hide a goddamn thing. "I'm concerned. He's my friend."
"I see." Sliding her bag over one shoulder, Teyla shrugs. She has to have picked that up from John--she's never done it before, and she does it like he does, one shouldered and meant to annoy the hell out of whoever sees it. "He is well."
"He's not." Teyla looks away. "Teyla. Seriously."
Teyla pauses, dark eyes evaluating him. He wonders for a split second what makes her expression soften like that, mouth loosening as she hooks her bag over one shoulder. "He is tense," she admits, like she's admitting to having filmed pornography during college to buy books or something. She eyes Rod sternly. "He is having a difficult time. Do not make it more so."
"I don't plan to." Rod frowns at Teyla when her eyes narrow, wondering if she's learned to read him that well. "He's my friend. I don't want to hurt him."
Teyla nods dubiously, bag hiking up on her shoulder. Before she can move away, Rod takes a breath, coming up as close as he dares, smelling Athosian spice and sweat from the warm afternoon, remembering an Athosian tent, a early morning departure, and banishes them all at once. The dark eyes widen, fixing on him for a moment, before strong hands rest lightly on his shoulders, and he tilts his head enough for their foreheads to touch. Rod breathes her in, eyes closing at the simple warmth. "Thanks," he whispers.
Teyla's fingers tighten, leaning into him just a little, enough to share the warmth of her body, before she pulls back, looking up at him with a smile. "Perhaps the next lesson, you should join us."
The thing is, when the offworld activation alarm sounds two hours too early, Rod's first instinct isn't to run to the gateroom to see John being wheeled out on a gurney. Lorne's scheduled mission was boring, the planet was pastoral, and John had the odd kind of luck that assured any disasters that came up always caused major intergalactic incidents. People in mud huts? Not really a problem.
In retrospect, though, it's exactly what he should have done.
He doesn't remember who called him. He barely registered the voice that told him John was being taken in for unspecified injuries. He remembers his laptop hitting the floor, and then he's in the infirmary, with Carson's voice soothing in the background while he pushes Lorne into a wall, hands balled into fists that will smash through skin and bone if only these idiots pulling him back would give him the chance. Near his ear, Teyla's voice murmurs mindless, pointless words, small hands like iron as they pull him back, and somewhere, Rod thinks he can hear Ronon saying something filthy before it penetrates that he personally just lost it in a big way in a public place.
Weirdly, though, he just doesn't care.
First contact with something like bullets, and it's not like John's in danger from a bleeding graze, but tell that to Rod's instincts, when he watched Ronon almost bleed out over Teyla's shoulder, watched John go still and silent and cold when he made three precise shots into three enemy chests. Tell that to his head, that sees the day they bring John back in a bodybag. Tell that to the frozen tightness in his chest that makes it hard to breathe and impossible to think.
When he's promised he won't try to kill Lorne, Teyla lets him go a safe distance away. "Dr. McKay," she says softly, seating herself in the chair beside him. "It was only a graze."
"They're Marines," Rod says, staring at the curtain that Carson retreated behind. Hands fisted in his lap, Rod tries not to remember the blood on Carson's shirt, the way that Lorne watches the curtained bed, like he isn't sure John will be coming out. "He never should have--"
"He understands the risk he takes," Teyla says firmly. One delicate-looking hand covers his, calluses scraping his skin as their fingers lace together, a reminder that this was and is her life, Ronon's life, their lives. That this is what John's chosen to do. "We all do."
"He *knows*." Ronon, leaning on the wall beside Teyla, nods sober acknowledgement of what Rod realizes is something he should have known all along. John knew. John worked to be this, become a person that could do this. The only person surprised is Rod himself. And he's not really that surprised at all.
"Rod?" Carson says softly, lifting the curtain enough peer out. Rod pushes up from his chair, ducking behind the curtain to see John in fresh infirmary scrubs with a new bandage on his side, a loopy smile, and wide, glassy eyes. "He'll be fine," Carson says with a hand on Rod's shoulder, gently squeezing. "A bit of rest will see him through." After a few seconds, Carson leaves, and Rod leans into the side of the bed, needing the support more than he's ever needed the image.
"Hey Meredith." Just to remind Rod that he's a complete and utter asshole. In case Rod had forgotten. Moving closer, Rod looks down into drug-darkened eyes, running a gentle finger just above the IV line.
"You're stoned," Rod says, feeling like an idiot for saying it, but mostly because talking is the only thing stopping him from crawling up on the bed and stripping John until he can see every inch of unmarred skin. John carries enough scars: the line on his face, pale against newly tanned skin; the raw, barely-healed wound his shoulder; and now a third. He reaches for John's hand, surprised all anew by the gun calluses on his thumb, the length of his palm reddened and sensitive when Rod touches it. John's smile widens dopily, and Rod gropes for a chair with one foot, unwilling to let go for even a second. "You okay?" he asks, though as high as John is right now, he's probably doing better than anyone in the city.
"Sure," John says, eyes turning to the ceiling like there are cartoons playing on the cool metal. "Awesome."
Rod sits down, keeping hold of John's hand, though probably a bad idea, what with Lorne and his team right outside. He just doesn't care. He'll let go when they pry his cold, dead fingers away. "You were shot."
"I don't think they meant it," John tells Rod's chest seriously. "And I'm pretty sure it was an accident. They were barely evolved enough for opposable thumbs, much less the coordination and brilliance necessary for good aim."
"It's nice to know your sense of humor is still intact."
"I only wish I were joking," John sighs, blinking drunkenly. "I didn't think you'd be here."
Breath catching, Rod tightens his grip, but John doesn't seem to notice. "I'll always be here, John."
John nods with wide eyes and absolutely no comprehension. "Did you notice that the ceiling catches color from everything?"
Rod swallows hard. "No, I didn't."
John's silent, apparently counting imaginary colors on the ceiling while Rod stares at the bandage. John's hand shifts in his, fingers threading between his own. "Is this what you wanted?" Rod asks the bandage softly. Reaching out, he strokes careful fingers a breath above the plain white gauze on his side.
John's fingers jerk in his, then tighten, and Rod looks up to see steady hazel eyes look at him. "What I want," John breathes with a strange, sad smile, licking his lips. "I don't know."
"You don't--don't have to do this. Not for Lorne. Not for anyone."
"Maybe for me," John whispers. "Maybe I need to know." The hazel eyes drift closed.
But John's asleep.
The nurses know before Rod does, but only by five minutes.
John goes to the lab in flagrant violation of Carson's orders, which is less a surprise than a new and strange immutable law of physics. Rod blinks at his monitor when it tells him the room is powering up, even though he knows for a fact that John will skin and eat anyone who even breathes in his space when he's not there. When Rod touches the lab door, it opens almost before he thinks, revealing John pale and unhappy slumped over a table with the component parts of a third-generation almost-ZPM.
John takes a long time to look up, and the quiet, still face tells stories of an argument in the infirmary and Lorne storming out--stories that later, Rod will pay nurses good chocolate to relate. In detail. "Bed," Rod says firmly, and John looks like he might argue, but what the hell. Rod pushes John's hands from his laptop and packs it himself while John stands unsteadily, leaning against the lab bench until Rod leads him, frighteningly passive, to his room.
John frowns like he might be considering rebellion, but Rod hustles him inside, making him change out of his field uniform with the rip up the side from a bullet and into clean, soft sweats and a t-shirt, pushing him into his bed and asking kindly if John needs a personal decorator because the prison chic look went out a long time ago.
"Asshole," John mutters, sleepy-eyed and rumpled, but he lies down when he touches the mattress, pulling the covers up to his chin. "I'm fine."
"Maybe." Rod watches as he fights sleep. "I'm staying right here until you are safely unconscious. So just go with it."
"Fascist," John says, but he closes his eyes firmly, and Rod stops himself from stroking the dark hair falling over John's eyes by dint of sitting on his hands. "Such a fucking bad week."
"Yeah," Rod says softly. Don't touch, he tells himself firmly. Not even now, when John rolls onto his side, head only inches from Rod's leg. Don't touch. Especially now. "Sleep."
John's drifting when the door buzzes annoyingly, and Rod stumbles to his feet, getting to the door before the second buzz, opening it with sharp words already spilling over to see Lorne standing there, unhappy and finger raised to do it again, face traveling through a confusing mix of expressions before settling on something just left of resigned.
"He's sleeping," Rod says, harsher than he means to be, because Lorne doesn't look much better than John.
Lorne shifts uncomfortably, looking anywhere but at Rod. "He left the infirmary. I just wanted to make sure he was--that he was okay."
"He's fine," Rod answers, leaning into the door, because Lorne will get to John over his dead body. "Would be better if you hadn't gotten him shot. But resting," he clarifies.
"And he needs you to watch over him?" Lorne says, flushing slightly.
Rod shrugs, one-shouldered (God, now he's doing it, too). "Someone has to." And you don't have the right, he tries to imply with a glare, but that's a lot of words for a look, so Rod can't be sure it translated well.
It's weird, Rod thinks suddenly--there's this possibility he and Lorne are standing here actually *posturing* over a sleeping mathematician who's still stoned on painkillers. No one would believe it, even if they could watch it live. *Rod* doesn't believe it. And yet he's doing it.
"Good night, Major," Rod says, stepping back just as John makes a sound halfway between a snuffle and a very hacking cough.
"Water," John mutters without opening his eyes, one hand groping vaguely toward the edge of the bed like he's expecting water from heaven. "Rod?"
Rod is a petty man, and he's always known that, no matter how much he tries to hide it. For once, he doesn't even want to. Turning away, he shuts the door in Lorne's face.
Then he goes to the bathroom to get John some water.
Rod takes John off-duty for two days after checking in with Carson, which John protests at length in language Rod's sure the Ancients never would have approved of. Rod gets Teyla and Ronon to break into the kitchen for their limited supply of popcorn and traps John in his room with the new season of *Dr. Who*, which is like John-catnip.
John stays sulky right until the first episode starts, then forgets to be pissed while explaining the entire history of *Dr. Who* to a bemused Ronon and Teyla.
Teyla's taken with Rose while Ronon watches for familiar aliens ("No, really, they didn't consult the SGC--what do you mean you've *seen Daleks*?"), and John gets a kind of religious ecstasy from the popcorn, making sounds that have both Ronon and Teyla turning their heads in surprise while Rod finds a pillow to hide beneath before John notices that Rod's reaction isn't PG-rated.
It's warm and comfortable and easy in a way that Rod's never quite felt before. Teyla falls asleep against John's shoulder while Ronon makes Rod explain the history of sci-fi. Rod wakes up the next morning in a tight, uncomfortable ball at the foot of John's bed with Teyla's feet in his stomach and Ronon snoring like a freight train a few inches away.
It's probably the best morning-after he's had in years.
"How can you be this good?" Rod complains when John dumps him on his ass for the third time. His only real consolation is the fact that John looks as surprised as he feels. "You fall over your own shoelaces, even when you're not wearing shoes! This is that gene, I can feel it."
"You are both doing well," Teyla praises from the sidelines, where she and Ronon have been fighting a fit of laughter for a full quarter hour. "Many Athosian children would fear you with sticks. Very, very small children."
John turns toward her lazily while he offers Rod a hand up from the floor. "You know," and John twirls the fucking stick, just because he can, and Rod hasn't quite figured out how to do that yet, "we should have a nice game of prime not prime." John's eyebrows arch upward. "To remind some people in the room that we are valuable for our irreplaceable brilliance, not our ability to grunt on command."
Teyla smirks at them both while Ronon leans back, with the look of a man who has eaten an excellent dinner. It was excellent, Rod knows, because he had to watch Ronon moan over lasagna and garlic bread like he was getting a blowjob under the table. It had been--and still is--very disturbing.
"You are doing better, Rod," Teyla says generously. "The lesson is done for the day."
Rod rubs absently at the thigh John viciously attacked with his stick. "Mission tomorrow. Provided I can walk, that is." The revised teams are operating on a trial basis, while Dr. Weir evaluates the effectiveness of the change. Rod actually can't complain too much--just looking at the report he made on PSX-119 makes him itch to go back and explore the facility in full, and God only knows what they'll find if they actually get to sit down and really study it.
This mission, though, is theirs, and Rod's more excited about it than he's been about missions in a long time.
John twirls his stick again before giving both of them to Teyla. It's so annoying that Rod wants to trip him. Turning away, John bows, forehead pressed against Teyla's. "Thank you," he says softly, so softly that Rod almost doesn’t hear him.
"I have done nothing," she says back, equally soft. "Have a good evening, John."
With a wave to Ronon, John wanders away, gawky and smiling as he goes out the door, and Rod watches, because John hasn't smiled like that in a while and he wants to savor it. When John vanishes from sight, he turns around, flushing to see his teammates smiling at him with easy indulgence. "What?"
"Nothing," Teyla says innocently, like Rod didn't see Ronon sneaking out of her quarters two nights running. Maybe he used the security cameras the first time, true, but he's biding his time until he can maximize the embarrassment by casually wandering by at some point. Very soon.
Teyla's hands settle on his shoulder, and Rod leans into the touch with closed eyes. "You would do well to attack from his left side," Teyla murmurs. "He has yet to guard that properly."
Rod snickers softly and steps back, waving at Ronon before picking up his bag, going out into a lovely Atlantean evening. Nodding in friendly greeting at passing botanists, he makes his way to the residential quarters, but his feet slow as he comes to John's door. Brushing the door with the tips of his fingers, he touches the crystal.
There's a long, insane few moments where Rod thinks of running, but then John answers, and Rod stares at him, taking in the man he's learning, like he's learning his teammates, like John is learning himself.
"I'm going back to PSX-119 for a two week research mission," Rod says, leaning into the doorway, trying for casual. John and his backbone stare back in blank surprise. "About a month from now. They did some of the initial ZPM research there, before they built the first prototypes. Considering you're currently our resident expert, I'd like you to be part of my team there."
"I thought you were transferring me to another team during those," John says. He can't slouch--that backbone is just not made that way--but he tries, arms crossed, looking tense and jumpy and like he might say something epically tactless at any moment. But he doesn't, just looks back, and Rod wishes to God that John hadn't tried to learn to control his tongue.
"Dr. Weir gave you that option. I'd rather you didn't." Rod takes a deep breath. "It turns out that I don't share well at all."
John's mouth quirks. "But Ronon and Teyla are--"
"And if I have to be specific, that part pertains only to you."
John smiles so suddenly that Rod can't stop himself, reaching out to trace a soft line over the scar on John's cheek, skin warm beneath his fingers.
"Rod, you--," John says, and Rod can hear the warnings edging his voice, but he comes inside anyway, cups John's jaw when he kisses him and drops his bag on the floor as the door slides conveniently closed behind him. John's mouth is soft and terrifyingly still, before callused hands curve against Rod's face and John's tongue brushes his. Even John's back seems to relax. "I--guess--I could."
"I like you," Rod blurts out when he pulls away. John eyes him, the hands on his shoulders tightening briefly. "A lot. I mean--I'm in love with you. And you have to stop looking like that right now or there's no way I can get through the next five minutes without humiliating myself."
"Wow." John blinks slowly. "You're bad at this."
Rod pulls John in, tasting his lips with slow sweeps of his tongue, feeling the instant relaxation in his body that could mean John is happy, or that he's about to trip over the carpet and avoid serious injury only by some kind of miracle. "First times are usually bad," Rod murmurs against John's lips, drawing back with a sharply indrawn breath when John's hands slide down to his ass, pulling him in. He can feel John laughing. "I'll get better."